A personal anecdote about writing


AmeriCorps is a Federally funded volunteer program in the USA, also known as the ‘domestic Peace Corps’. The idea is that AmeriCorps participants work in various programs across the country, aiming to improve American society in sundry ways.

I was an AmeriCorps member for two years after my university studies. During my first year, I worked as a teacher’s aide in an inner-city elementary school. During my second year, I worked in a program that was assisting in the development of a State-wide network of disaster recovery service providers.

Anyway, during my first year, towards the end of that program year, there was an opportunity for every AmeriCorps team in New Jersey to submit one of its projects for consideration for the award of ‘Project of the Year’; and I submitted a project of my own.

Schoolchildren teaching schoolchildren

One of my ideas, which I attempted to implement during my year at an inner-city elementary school in Trenton, NJ, was a program through which 5th grade students would tutor 4th and 3rd grade students in mathematics.

Conceptually, I figured that the 5th graders would themselves be more motivated to learn mathematics if they felt a sense of responsibility towards the younger students (which turned out to be true). If I recall correctly, my little project only ran for a few months; it was very limited in scope. My intentions were good; my implementation was good enough; but there simply wasn’t a lot of time to run my project towards the very end of the school year.

So, when I filled out the application for ‘AmeriCorps Project of the Year’ for my little tutoring program, I never expected to win. After all, my project was short-lived, and its results were quite limited, despite the children’s enthusiasm.

Why did my project win?

As I’m sure you have assumed already, my tutoring project won the “Project of the Year” award at the State-wide end-of-the-year ceremony, which I had never expected.

Honestly, I was both shocked and incredibly pleased to receive the award – it made my year. Still, the following year, when I was working for that aforementioned disaster recovery AmeriCorps program, I learned the truth of how my victory had come about.

Since the AmeriCorps disaster recovery program I led during my 2nd year was run directly out of the New Jersey Office of Community Services (responsible for distributing federal AmeriCorps funding to programs across the State of NJ), I had the opportunity to gain a much broader perspective of AmeriCorps programs across the entire state.

So, that’s when I learned the truth, from speaking with the staff at the NJ Office of Community Services. In reality, some staff people had read the submissions for “AmeriCorps Program of the Year” that previous year, and they had selected a winner based exclusively upon the written descriptions of the various projects, rather than based upon actual results.

Essentially, they had not done their due diligence by checking upon the award applicants – they had simply picked the AmeriCorps project most compellingly described in written word – which, as it had turned out, had been mine.

I received that award only because I happened to be good at writing.

41 thoughts on “A personal anecdote about writing”

  1. ๐Ÿ™‚ I thouroughlyenjoyed reading this post, David. This is a step above the experience of a person who discovered that he won a contest in high school because he was the only one who entered!

  2. But obviously good at thinking, too, to have come up with an idea which captured people’s imaginations. Presentation, yes, but the substance must be there too.

      1. People judged on style over substance? Not the first…
        BTW, I’m gonna post some trivia in a couple hours. I expect you’ll be the only one who knows. No pressure ๐Ÿคฃ

  3. That’s interesting. When I was working in a scientific institute at a University here in Australia, I learned a lot about the requirements of academics in science. If they want funding for their projects they have to be good at writing too. And they have to be able to sell their ideas. My boss in the institute played a massive role in helping to edit their grant applications because she had worked in the grants area and knew what worked. But, without meaning to take away from your win (because it sounds like a great idea and a lovely project and I hope the school continued to implement it) I think it’s a bit crazy that basically the primary skill that is being judged in so many areas of society is self marketing. But you highlight well that the value of being able to write well is actually enormous in our society. Being comfortable with words, language and writing is a real blessing.

  4. Hey I did AmeriCorps too! I think your idea of having older students tutor younger students is smart because kids often learn better from their peers. Even if the project couldn’t run for very long it sounds like it still deserved to win ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. ๐Ÿงก Lizi ๐Ÿงก ~ the actual results were very limited. It was a good idea, sure, but it bore very little fruit.


      P.S. what did you do in Americorps?

  5. Your tutoring project resonates with me. When I was a sixth-grader, I was a math tutor for a few 3rd-graders. It was both fun and frustrating. One girl I tutored was eager to improve her arithmetic skills and she did well. A boy I tutored was described to me as “a challenge” by the teacher in charge of the program, and she said she’d chosen me to work with him for that specific reason. He was inattentive, fidgety and a bit rebellious, and he simply didn’t care one way or the other about learning math. Anyway, I was honored as a 12-year-old kid to be chosen as a tutor and I did my best. I think your program was noble and important and it’s something that works (at least for kids who are wiling to try). It was worthy of the award despite the staff only judging by how projects were presented in writing. It also goes to show how crucial good writing skills are in the everyday world. This was a really interesting bit of background and I salute you for your efforts to help children learn. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Fascinating! Vocabulary has been shown to correlate with success. Words are powerful.

  7. Well, I wouldn’t say that is necessarily true. No denying your writing skills but it may well have been their choice was serendipitous.

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